The Capitals handed Vegas a 4-3 loss in Game 5, ending a long-awaited championship and spoiling an incredible run for the expansion Golden Knights in their inaugural season.
LAS VEGAS — After 43 seasons, the Washington Capitals are finally sitting on top of hockey.
Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals raised the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history after a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 on Thursday night.
Captain Alex Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with a power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights, whose incredible expansion season finally ended in the desert.
So did the Capitals’ agonizing wait for their first championship since the franchise’s debut in 1974. After so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Capitals confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.
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Ovechkin and teammates are Washington’s first championship hockey team — and their city’s first champion in a major pro sport since a Super Bowl in early 1992.
“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record. “That’s all that matters. Look at the smiles on my teammates. This is something you’ll never forget. This moment, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m so happy. It’s unbelievable.”
After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” through his gap-toothed grin before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of red-clad fans.
When Ovi got the Cup back, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.
“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the misery,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench.
After Vegas won the Final opener, the Capitals capped their four-game surge by rallying from a third-period deficit in this cathartic Game 5, banishing any memory of playoff failure with clutch goals and rugged play across their lineup.
Braden Holtby made 28 saves in Game 5, outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the other net one final time.
“When you get this close to the Cup, it’s hard,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t happen too often. It’s very disappointing.”
The Caps couldn’t win a Cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on. Vegas never got close to a tying goal, and the clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.
Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home playoff games before dropping the last two.
The defeat ends the incredible inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL’s 31st franchise last fall and immediately launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history.
Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored for Vegas in the second period, but Fleury’s 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-winning goal.
Forward T.J. Oshie, a Stanwood resident and Everett minor-hockey graduate, spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who he said was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff, but he’s going to remember this,” Oshie said. “I’ve never seen a team come together like we did here. I’ve never seen the commitment from start to finish like we had here.”